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Sangita Viswanathan, Former Editor-in-Chief, FoodSafetyTech

FSMA 2nd Review Cycles: A Q&A on Preventive Controls

By Sangita Viswanathan
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Sangita Viswanathan, Former Editor-in-Chief, FoodSafetyTech

On Friday September 19, 2014, FDA finally released re-proposals to four of the main FSMA-related rules: Preventive Controls for both Human and Animal Food, the Produce Safety Rule, and the Foreign Supplier Verification Program. The 75-day comment period will close around mid-December, after the proposals are officially published in the Federal Register.

At a recent FSMA Fridays webinar, presented by SafetyChain, Dr. David Acheson and Jennifer McEntire, Ph.D., of The Acheson Group focused on changes proposed to the Preventive Controls rule (for Human and Animal Foods). We present below some excerpts:

Q: What is the further definition of situations where environmental testing will be required?

Dr. Acheson: This is one of three very predictable components of the reproposals coming out. We have been saying for a long time to expect environmental monitoring to come back into the regulations. We all wish we have environmental monitoring everywhere, but this is not practical, feasible or environmentally focused. So what FDA has done now is to say we expect you to look at your environment, especially if it’s ready-to-eat products, and require you to conduct environmental monitoring in those specific areas. The change proposed is not fully prescriptive, and facilities need to conduct environmental monitoring as appropriate to their food products, the facility etc. It is required it specific circumstances where ready-to-eat product is exposed post-processing, and before packaging. Under this reproposed rule, the agency requires you to have strong environmental monitoring procedures as needed, records of these methods, and proof that you have corrective actions built in, when needed.

Q: What is the role of finished product testing in verification of food safety plans?

McEntire: When FSMA rules were initially announced, there was a lot of uncertainty whether FDA would require finished product testing, as in many cases, this would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Now FDA is asking you to do finished product testing as necessary, as a verification activity to check if your overall food safety system is working well. Companies will need to look at the types of preventive controls that in place, at areas such as sanitation, employee hygiene (hand washing) etc., aspects that FDA does not require to be validated, and use finished product testing as a way to make sure that these are being done the way they are supposed to be. If you think it’s appropriate and if you choose to have finished product testing as part of your verification, make sure to have written procedures, documentation, corrective actions etc.

Q: What are the requirements and responsibilities for controlling suppliers along a company’s supply chain?

Dr. Acheson: Everybody recognizes that controls supply chain risk is an important part of controlling brand risk, AND it is a huge challenge. So it makes logical sense, and we know from experience, that suppliers have and will continue to send out food and ingredients that are not suitable, cause problems and cause recalls. Another reason is based in the Foreign Supplier Verification Program, which is essentially a different take on Supply Chain control. The only difference is that FSVP is a risk control requirement for imported, FDA-controlled foods. It looks at who you are getting food from, is there a hazard in it, and how is that hazard controlled? With the FSVP, we had set a different bar for imported foods than for foods sourced domestically. So this new addition rule tries to align Preventive Controls rule with the FSVP, by adopting a similar approach. So now it doesn’t matter if you source domestically, or from outside, you need to have a strong supplier controls program, and this has to be risk-based.

So look at your ingredients or materials. Do they contain a significant risk? If so, who’s controlling that risk – you or the supplier? For instance, if you are sourcing an ingredient like an herb, which has been associated with a Salmonella outbreak, then yes, there is a risk associated with it. So this ingredient that you are sourcing from different places is a significant hazard, but what you are doing with it is putting it in a blend and then cooking it in a product. So you are controlling that risk, and you don’t need to document that from the suppliers. However, the same ingredient, if you are just using it as a garnish, without a kill step, the control falls back on the supplier. And you as the user, have to make sure that the supplier is controlling that risk. The agency is giving some options, such as audits, testing, verification of supplier programs etc. to manage this requirement. For instance, if your analysis says there’s a significant risk, and it can lead to a significant adverse effect or death, Class 1 type situation, if that ingredient poses that level of risk and you are not controlling it, then an annual audit will have to be conducted of that supplier.

Where does GFSI fit into this? In my view, GFSI will align with this. So if you have a GFSI audit of the supplier, then you are going to be in pretty good shape.